Monday, July 15, 2013

Review Policy Amendment, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Indie Book

It's an exciting time to be an author, Esteemed Reader. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard industry  insiders bemoan the lowly state of modern publishing because it's nothing like it used to be and the empire is crumbling. If I had a once cushy job at a publishing house and I'd seen my pay slashed and my friends laid off, I'd also be bemoaning the series of mergers destined to one day result in one publisher run by five interns.

But I never had a cushy publishing job. And things change. My grandfather owned a newspaper, my father worked for a corporate newspaper; I run a free blog. Things change.

But change is so often a good thing. In college, a friend of mine had to declare bankruptcy when his printed literary magazine in which he interviewed writers and reviewed books went under. At his height, he had a respectable subscription of just over 500 readers. As of this post, I average 60 times that number of readers every month (and growing), and this blog costs me a little less than $100 a year to run. And only that much because I lack the gumption to ask some writers to give me free books to review. I already had a copy of Watership Down, so Richard Adams got a pass:)

I love literary agents and editors. Esteemed Reader, you know I do. I never would've got the readership I was just bragging about without them. But my loyalty is not, nor has it ever been, to the traditional publishing model. I care about good stories well told. Any way a talented writer can get to me and capture my imagination, short of coming to my house and shouting her story while I'm trying to sleep, is okay with me--having to specify this is a natural outgrowth of being friends with authors like Mike Mullin:)

That being said, my review policy is out of date and needs to be amended. Since the start of this blog, I've been refusing indie authors. My view of the self-published author has been one of disdain. I understand a writer wanting to get their story out by any means necessary, but so frequently the result is a published book not yet ready to be published. I've resented indie authors because why should it be so easy for them when it's so hard for the rest of us slugging away at the traditional model?

Things change.

It used to be if a book was published by a major publisher, a reader could at least expect a certain standard of quality. For whatever reason or reasons, that's been slipping. You know I only comment on the positive aspects of the books I review here, but that doesn't mean I don't catch all the atrocious mistakes and errors. I've been telling my critique group for a while we have to be more vigilant in editing our work because we can't trust publishing houses to catch our mistakes.

Too many writers have I seen recently thrust up on stage without their publisher first noticing their fly was down. Too many traditionally published books have I read with awful passages I wouldn't let my worst enemy publish without at least a word of caution.

Things change.

I read Open Minds by my old friend Susan Kaye Quinn and I'm ravenously devouring the collected works of Hugh Howey. I've started reading an indie author every other book and what I'm finding is a lot of garbage, but in-between the hay, there's the occasional needle. I've now read indie books so good I tell friends about them, and why shouldn't I tell you about them, Esteemed Reader?

Like Scrooge the morning after, I've discovered the true meaning of Christmas. What I love is great books. I don't care who publishes them. So, knowing the onslaught of emails about to bury my inbox before I finish this sentence, I, Robert Kent, Middle Grade Ninja, being of (mostly) sound mind, hereby lift my unreasonable ban of indie authors.

I want indie publishing to flourish. How could I not? Is this a traditional print literary magazine you're reading? I've been "indie publishing" this blog for years. No one asked me to do it, no one gave me permission. I just did it. How could I think less of any fellow writer for doing the same?


The other reason I've summarily turned down indie writers for years is so I don't have to say "no" to individuals. That ends now. If you're an indie writer and you submit a book to me, know that I'm going to hold you to a higher level of accountability because you don't have anyone to blame for your book's lack of quality but yourself. If I don't think your book is ready for mainstream consumption, I'm not recommending it.

I'm no gatekeeper. But anytime I review a book here, I'm spending time away from my family, my writing, and other books. I'll keep an open mind and check out free samples, but if I don't want to read your book or I don't think Esteemed Reader will like it, I'm not going to feature it. Nothing personal. It's just like, you know, my opinion, man. Don't worry about it, indie author. Go find another blogger or write a better book, or better yet, do both.

If I were traditionally publishing these reviews, I'm sure someone would be in a position to tell me what books to read. Of course, I might also be getting paid:) But there's no money, and it's just you and me, Esteemed Reader. So let's try something new. It might be fun.

If you want me to consider your self-published book, here are the ground rules going forward:

1. Your book must be professionally presented. If I can't stomach the thought of your book's hideous cover marring the front page of my precious blog, it's not going to. If you haven't bothered to format your book in an orderly fashion, that doesn't give me much hope for your writing. If you don't take your book seriously, I'm not going to either.

2. Your book must be middle grade or young adult. I would think calling this blog MIDDLE GRADE Ninja would make this clear, but judging by the emails I get, not everyone's picking up what I'm laying down.

3. The Ninja reads free. You may be the next Richard Adams, but that remains to be seen. If you want me to consider your book, you have to give me a free Kindle copy. It's a marketing cost, dude.

4. No means no. If I say I'm not interested, leave it at that. Don't make me be the bad guy. I don't have to critique your work--you should've had that done before you published. And I don't have to explain myself. The reason I decide not to review your book may be because a butterfly flapped its wings in Central Park. Don't send me hate mail. Move on. If you're a real writer, you should be used to rejection.

That's all the rules I can think of for now. We'll see how this goes, then maybe I'll add some more.


  1. Looking forward to seeing which Indie authors you review! As a reader, it's hard: I want to give those books a chance, but they're hard to vet.

    1. I absolutely agree. But I figure it's not fair to ignore all indie authors just because many are awful. Many traditionally published books are awful and I haven't stopped reading those:)

    2. Exactly. It's a new market, for writers and readers. I'm impressed you're changing the policy--it takes some guts.

  2. I agree it's an exciting time in publishing. I do spotlight self-published authors who I know and some others that look interesting I spotlight through our Tuesday tips. My problem is that I have way too many books to read with my interviews and ARCs I receive so I'm not really reviewing anything. Sounds like you have a great new policy. And awesome that you're friends with Susan.

  3. Look forward to the books you choose to review.

  4. So glad you had a change of heart. I've been a member of a critique group for five years, wrote for a weekly paper, and am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'll be self-publishing soon. Will send a book review request once everything is all set.
    Will have my fingers crossed!!


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.